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Freemasons Assembly backs down; Legal fears over declaration rule.

Byline: By TOM BODDEN Welsh Affairs Correspondent

THE Welsh Assembly backed down yesterday over rules which forced AMs to declare membership of the Freemasons but not of other select groups.

Now AMs will have to publicly register if they belong to any 'closed membership' group after a warning of legal action under human rights laws.

Leaders of more than 18,000 Freemasons in Wales protested at the 'stigma of having their integrity targeted by a highly discriminatory requirement', which was criticised as a 'witch-hunt'.

The Assembly was the only legislature in Britain to make failure to declare membership of the Freemasons a criminal offence.

Legal advisers warned that it left the devolved body open to a serious risk itself from court action.

Kirsty Williams, Lib-Dem AM for Brecon and Radnor and chair of the standards committee, told the Assembly: 'It would do little for the Assembly's reputation either as a legislative body or one that prides itself as upholding human rights legislation.'

The new rule would also remove any breach being a criminal offence.

AMs accepted the changes in standing orders by 37-7 with two abstentions, reaching the two-thirds majority required.

The wrangle has continued since the start of the Assembly in 1999.

But a move to change the rules in 2002 was thrown out by the full plenary when a 29-15 vote in favour failed to achieve a two-thirds majority.

James Bevan, the provincial secretary of the south east division of Freemasonry, said: 'We had the ridiculous situation that, as a Freemason, if I wanted to become an AM, I would have to declare my membership.

'But a member of the Ku Klux Klan or Meibion Glyndwr would be all right.'

The standards committee concluded that the Assembly had a duty to uphold fairness, openness and human rights.

But they also warned that there was a 're al risk of successful legal action being taken against the Assembly' if the current rules remained.

No moral or value judgement about any organisation that may need to be recorded has been made, the report said
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 21, 2005
Words:344
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